“This week’s assignment will be to write two chapters of a young adult book about a Pygmy girl, dragons and special powers.”
At least, that’s how I imagine The Pygmy Dragon came to be written, because there’s no other explanation for the absolute jumble sale of ideas, plots, characterizations and themes. There’s exceptions, of course. Clearly the student who was graced with ‘Pip’s Prologue’ only turned in one of her chapters. A couple of over-achievers turned in three chapters instead of two. But I’m pretty certain I’ve caught on. How else can you explain:
(LOADS OF SPOILERS FOLLOW)
‘Pip’s Prologue:’ “You’re a big person. I am a Pygmy. I’m three feet, eleven and a half inches tall. That half-inch is very important to me, because if you and I are going to be friends, then I don’t want to hear any short person jokes from you.”
(Plot: can’t tell yet, but the language is ridiculously simplistic. Apparently, despite being proud of being a Pygmy, she wants to be a big person and is sensitive about her height).
Chapter 1: Village Attack: “Pip had one though in her mind: to rescue the children. Crimson drops of fire splattered over her as she ran. Pain bit her bare back and legs like a maddened viper. Oil, she realised, from the rank smell. Burning oil.”
(Plot: Eight year-old warrior girl tries to protect her village. Problem: These children will literally never get another thought).
Chapter 6: Lessons with Balthion: “Arosia laughed. ‘That’s Pygmy speech, Dad? Amazing! By the Islands, Pip, we’re going to be friends. I will tutor you in Island Standard. You will learn to read and write. I will come here as often as I can… as long as you help Dad with his research.”
(Plot: Pygmalion. Oh, and that sounds exactly like friendship!)
Chapter 9: Journey to Jeradia: “You don’t like zoos?” “No more than I’d want to be bound in one place with unbreakable chains, Pip,” he replied, his words seething with a Dragon’s anger… How did Zardon understand her so completely?”
(Plot: Dragon soulmates, ala Anne McCaffrey. Problem: yes, it is hard to understand why someone would understand not wanting to be caged. They must have a Special Connection).
Chapter 11: Off to School: “Shambithion. Master of Academics. Head of the Library,” he shot back, throwing his words at her as if he wished they were darts. “Fifteen, eh? How did you get here? Where are you from? Are you a midget? Hmm, shame there’s no minimum height requirement at this school. Who sent you?”
(Plot: Outcast goes to Special School. Problem: characterization. Quite a librarian there, who can’t recognize a representative of a unique race of people).
Chapter 14: Dragons and Apes : A journeyman accuses Pip of cheating as she quotes a text word for word. “Shambithion said, ‘You see, Journeyman Gelka, the oral cultures of the Island-World have extraordinary powers of memorisation.” …She ran away. But how did one break out of a school guarded by fire-breathing Dragons, who to a beast thought the Pygmy girl enjoyed causing trouble for their kind?”
(Plot: Still the Outcast but Gifted student who Struggles with Fitting In. Oh, and apparently the Librarian finally remembered to read Peoples of The World. Oh, and Pip can Talk to All the Dragons in Her Head, which was Totally Not A Critical Plot Point in The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey).
Chapter 16: The Power of Command: “Everyone, simmer down. Shimmerith? Be free.” This time, the words were unimportant. The sentiment was. As if she had released a taut rope from her mind, Pip suddenly felt relieved.”
(Plot: Hero discovers magic known Only In Legends.).
Chapter 20: Dragon Pirates: The first flying mission runs into problems. “They’re pirates,” Zardon called, helping them with a fireball. The Orange Dragon’s Rider howled as flame engulfed his leg.”
(Plot: Fighting! On dragons! Problem: aside from the cribbing from Anne McCaffrey’s fighting Thread and the hierarchy of dragon color, not a thing. Except for nothing leading up to it.)
Some random chapters in here have to do with Dragons choosing humans in a semi-mystical encounter, only sometimes Dragons choose Shapeshifters, and sometimes the Shapeshifters choose humans, and sometimes Shapeshifters choose Shapeshifters. It’s all totally Magical and not anything like Anne McCaffrey’s dragon-human bonding in the Pern series.
I can’t keep on–this is exhausting. Following chapters include Pip learning she is a Shapeshifter (surprise), flying to another island to check the lore, only to be attacked. Pip is taken captive by a hunky Silver Dragon, saves the day with her special Rage Power, falls to her death but is saved by a Land Dragon which hasn’t been seen in hundreds of years. The group leaves for home, because now they have no time to look for the lore. Attacked again on the way back, they head to the School to prepare for war. Interlude with Pip losing her temper and turning into a dragon at inopportune times. They are attacked by giant centipedes in the Keep. Then the Silver Dragon leads an attack force and Pip is such an amazing flier, she knocks him out. The Silver Dragon is in the dungeon and Pip is Magically Attracted to him. They are almost killed. Oh, and then Twu Luv. The End. Except it isn’t, because we don’t know what happened to Zargon, and if they will win the war.
END OF SPOILERS
Pip is the Mary Suest of all the Mary Sues, with Extra Special Powers that come out every few chapters. I actually didn’t mind the exponential power growth as much as the wildly inconsistent world building that included flying dragonships from Steampunk land, subsistence gatherer Pygmies and a civilization of hundreds of dragons and shapeshifting dragons, all of which are apparently unknown to each other. Don’t even get me started on the “island” geography that apparently consists of everyone living on mountaintops above a mystical cloud layer. Thematically, it begins an identity story, then a hero’s journey, except the hero gets distracted by wanting to also find soulmates, and suddenly it becomes a Romance With the Wrong Side.
I’m always on the lookout for fantasy that seeks to tell stories from new perspectives. I had thought a short, dark-skinned Pygmy girl might offer a new take. Unfortunately, instead of celebrating difference, it was one long journey to turn Pip into Queen of Marvelous, which doesn’t really celebrate difference as much as emphasize differentness, if you know what I mean. I’ve already read much of this book before, as it has some very strong roots in early Anne McCaffrey, particularly Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, but the jumps around in ages, plotting and world-building makes for a thoroughly head-scratching read. Honestly, I’d give this a pass and dig up the originals.
Major apologies are due to Athena and Naomi, who both read this book with me.